A moment in the Sun: Queensbridge Houses

Having the right partners can make a difference when developing community solar business models that benefit subscribers and community members. The large team behind community solar at Queensbridge Houses, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), worked together to overcome many challenges and achieve an important goal: equitable access to community solar.

NYCHA’s mission aims to provide affordable, safe housing for low-income New Yorkers. It also facilitates access to community and social services. NYCHA has committed to hosting 30MW of renewable energy within its 2021 Sustainability Agenda. NYCHA planners created the solar community program to benefit residents by generating revenue and reducing their bills. NYCHA staff believed they could achieve all their goals by leasing rooftop space to solar community developers.

One of the first NYCHA sites selected for community solar was Queensbridge Houses, a campus of 26 residential buildings and two community centers across two public housing developments-Queensbridge North and Queensbridge South-in Long Island City, Queens. Queensbridge houses are home to over 6,000 residents. It is also in the shadow of Ravenswood Generating Facility, a large, gas-fired power station and the city’s biggest power generator.

NYCHA staff are skilled in the development of innovative partnerships. As the project developer, they partnered with Sol Purpose. Sol Purpose is a public benefit company that develops renewable energy. Sol Purpose helped NYCHA find additional partners who shared the same mission: to provide clean energy for the public.

  • Sunwealth is a public benefit corporation that creates market-based solutions for a more inclusive solar economy. It financed the project and provided support in project development. The long-term owner-operators are solar arrays.
  • Bright Power was hired as the project’s engineering consultant.
  • Venture Solar was the installer.
  • Green City Force is an AmeriCorps program that prepares young adults in NYCHA properties to pursue careers through green service. It provides community engagement and workforce training.
  • Solar One is a New York City green energy education center that developed the training curriculum in collaboration with Green City Force.
  • Solstice and Arcadia provided customer outreach and management tools for the project.

All partners agreed on one goal: The project had to be fair and equitable for all, as well as deliver benefits to community solar subscribers, building owners, developers, installers, investors, Queensbridge Houses residents, and investors.

NYCHA agreed to let Queensbridge Houses’ roof space to Sunwealth. Sunwealth maintains the panels with support from the other partners. The Queensbridge Houses community-solar project had been substantially completed by the time it was finished. More than 470 households subscribed to the Queensbridge Houses solar project. One hundred of these households are low- or moderate-income households (LMI), exceeding the goal of 20% LMI subscriptions.

The project team discovered another way to benefit NYCHA residents who don’t pay their electric bills. This was workforce development. NYCHA residents were given training in solar installation and OSHA 30 certification. 13 residents, most of whom live in Queensbridge’s public housing, were hired as full-time employees and received benefits throughout the year-long installation. After completing Queensbridge’s solar projects, Venture Solar extended five contracts to these residents.

The Queensbridge Houses community-solar installation is now up and running. Project partners are happy with the outcome. The solar community project generates cash flow, and NYCHA receives lease revenue. Queensbridge North is the beneficiary. The project is fully subscribed and continues its 10% reduction in the bill to all subscribers.

NYCHA has many more community solar projects under development. The following tasks will be dedicated to providing 100% of its subscriptions for LMI households. NYCHA staff also plans to subscribe to more direct-metered tenants for solar community projects. They plan to open new pathways for residents to pursue clean energy careers.

NYCHA is a U.S. member. Since July 2020, NYCHA has been a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Community Solar Partnership community. Sunwealth joined NCSP in April 2021 at the recommendation of its current partners, shortly after it had closed on its second NYCHA contract. Since 2020, Sol Purpose and Solstice have been members of the partnership.

NYCHA is one of many organizations that face obstacles to community solar. NCSP was created to help organizations like NYCHA overcome barriers to community solar access in underserved areas. NCSP was comprised of over 700 members representing over 450 partner organizations.

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